- Exercising the carrying muscles without impact. A belly-dancer uses her quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes to hold her steady as she performs hip movements or travels smoothly across the floor. However, even though she gets a great lower-body workout, the amount of impact to her knees and ankles is minimal. Impact is measured not only by how hard our feet strike the ground, but by how much stress is placed on our joints. Using this measure, most of Middle-Eastern dance is considered non-impact; some tribal and folk dances are low-impact.
- Building the back muscles evenly. Belly-dancers use their torsos a lot-much more than ballet, modern or tap dancers. Only jazz dancers come close to our use of rib movements and undulations. These movements, coupled with shoulder movements, exercise the back muscles, and they exercise the muscles evenly. Strong back muscles prevent back injuries, and they promote good posture as well.
- Exercising the arms. New belly-dance students are always surprised by much they have to use their arm muscles. Belly-dancers have to hold their arms up for long periods of time, and it actually takes quite a lot of strength to perform arm movements slowly and gracefully.
- Aiding digestion. It's true! Exercising the abdominal area, not just by rolling the belly, but also by swaying the torso, helps food move along the digestive system. Any form of exercise will have this effect to some degree, but belly-dance is especially good for this purpose.
Many people are surprised to learn that Middle-Eastern Dance, commonly known as "belly-dance," involves much more than the belly! In fact, belly-dance can benefit many parts of the body. Here are some of the health benefits of Middle-Eastern Dance:
The health benefits of belly dance
These toned muscles improve posture and help prevent back pain that can be caused by the unnatural curving forward of the spine that occurs when muscle groups are weak (lordosis). Small muscle groups deep in the back that are normally under-exercised are used and strengthened. The muscles surrounding the hip, the largest joint in the body, are used and exercised during hip drops, and figure eights, enhancing flexibility and suppleness. Improved hip flexibility can lead to improved balance when walking as well.
Arms and Shoulders are exercised when doing lifts, circles, or the rippling motions of snake arms, toning muscle. This toning effect is often evident early on, since holding the arms aloft are an important element of the dance, even for beginners.
Because a woman is on her feet, moving during the dance, it is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones, and the overall toning can lead to an improved self-image, as the dancer becomes more balanced and poised. Raks sharki is considered a low-impact exercise, meaning the risk of injury is minimal when movements are done correctly. The benefits of belly dance can be enjoyed by women of all ages; men and children are participating in the dance as well, and reaping the same benefits.
In this day and age of almost continuous stress, the subtle rhythms of raks sharki and the traditional movements are calming. The repetitive movements of the dance and the concentration needed to do them can help a mind filled with daily stress to "let go" for a while and relax. It's hard to worry about deadlines at work when you are thinking about getting that next drop just right, or while making sure that you are in time with the music. One effect of stress is that our bodies tense up, causing contractions or spasms in muscle groups, such as those in the neck, shoulders, or back. When a muscle is contracted, lactic acid builds up, causing the "soreness" or pain that occurs. Blood flow to the affected muscles decreases as well.
Raks sharki, on the other hand, gently stretches and uses these vulnerable muscle groups, and as they are utilized, blood flow increases and lactic acid is flushed away. Stressed muscles relax as they are gently exercised, relieving the "clenched" muscles often seen in our society. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.
Raks sharki is a fun, healthy way to exercise. It can be a creative outlet that conditions, tones, and allows a woman to tune into the natural movements of her body. It can refresh, relax, and/or exhilarate. So why wait? Find out where classes are held locally, or visit Bhuz.com to look up a class and join in this centuries old dance!
Advisory: Many doctors have suggested belly dancing classes as part of rehabilitation from injury; it is, however, important to check with your own medical provider before starting any new form of exercise, especially if you are over 40, pregnant or have medical problems. Most injuries related to "overdoing" for the beginner can be avoided by warming the muscles first and by remembering to do some basic stretching afterward. Listen to your body's signals. Raks sharki, or belly dance, is a wonderful and gentle way to begin to condition your body.